Why I went from neuroscience to UX design

People always think neuroscience is like rocket science – completely out of reach for the “average Joe.”  It IS like rocket science, but not in that way.  These advanced topics require 2 things:  curiosity and thirst for knowledge.  I love to learn and am passionate about skepticism.  We should always challenge the status quo, while keeping our current knowledge close to heart.  This applies to any discipline – some just require more hours of studying than others! 

“UX Design?!  Why would you do THAT with a neuroscience degree?!”

I’ll tell you why:  I love the brain and its implications in human behavior,  I love working under pressure , and I have a super-nerdy passion for processes. 

1. I became obsessed with the brain

I’m kind of obsessed with the human brain.  It holds more information than any computer.  It holds the processes behind why we do what we do.  It is also squishy. 

What has fascinated me the most about the brain is the behaviors it dictates.  I studied neuroscience over psychology because I’m a hard sciences girl.  Neuroscience takes the magic out of psychology while still acquiring much of the same information.  We just use data and physical evidence to do so.  The great thing about user experience design and research is I still am able to apply what I learn from neuroscience research studies.  The advantage is I have the latest and greatest in what people do and why people do it.  And how we can manipulate it.

2. I am a sprinter

For an effective research study, I need at LEAST 30 samples for it to be statistically significant.  THAT is annoying.  I’m a sprinter.  In UX design, they don’t want any more than 5 samples (participants) for a user research study.  So data can be collected, manipulated, and applied within a short turnaround.    Upload some information into me and I will download an application.  I love taking information and data and applying it to new ideas.  When I come up with an idea – I often race to an informercial mindset:  we need to TAKE ACTION NOW.  This next example is a NERD LEVELS ON HIGH ALERT example.  When I would use equipment for behavioral studies and/or software for collecting and manipulating data, I would find what I saw as “easy” fixes to improve the efficiency and ease-of-use.  I would ask my PI (primary investigator) about it, who found it intriguing but not relevant considering he didn’t use it (us lowlies conducted the actual research).  So I would reach out to the equipment company or the software company and make sure they knew about these shortcomings in the user experience.  I would rarely if ever hear back from these companies – if I did it was a month or two later.  And any suggested changes they did value would not be applied to a prototype until long after I left the research lab.  Product design is slow, and much of the equipment we were using was not for a wide user base.  So for these companies, there was no rush or resources they were willing to sacrifice to make such changes. 

User Experience teams say “WHY WAIT?!” after hearing an idea pitch.  I love that in UX, there isn’t a lot of leeway to wait.  You build credibility for yourself, fellow teammates trust you, and your ideas come to fruition and reality for a project.  And as with any project, business strategy is involved which means everything is expedited.  You have to do it well and right, but projects have to keep moving to keep clients happy and money coming in.  That’s the bottom line, but It’s more than that for me.  I love that my Ideas aim to improve processes and people’s everyday lives, which brings me to my next point – I LOVE CREATING AND IMPROVING PROCESSES. 

3. I have a passion for processes 

I had no idea I have been a user experience designer for most of my life. 

I’ve always loved to maximize efficiency and comfort of use in everything I do.  When I was little, I lived on a beautiful, quintessential neighborhood street in small town Vermont.  The houses were big, the trees were old, and the neighborhoods winding.  In the good ol’ days, my friends and I were free to roam until the street lamps came on.  This meant we had to get home in a certain amount of time at a certain time.  Between my friend and I, we would experiment with different paths and timelines for completing this objective (user research, anyone?!).  We eventually determined what the fastest way was so we could spend the maximized amount of time at play.  We were able to apply some of the things we learned with other friends of mine in the neighborhood.  And that was the best part of improving our playing experience: taking our knowledge and process on to others so they could have as much fun as possible, too. 

Minimizing effort and thus increasing effectiveness for the users in their experiences is what I do.  I get paid for it, but it has always been a lifestyle choice for me.  And now that I’m able to improve other people’s every day lives on a large scale everyday – that’s lit.

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